Personality Test: Phipps' Molly Steinwald |
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Personality Test: Phipps' Molly Steinwald

Molly Steinwald recently was hired as associate director of science education at Phipps Conservatory and Botanical Gardens in Oakland. She is working on infusing current science, research and best practices into Phipps’ programs for preschool through graduate age students, expanding offerings for teachers, and emphasizing participatory and interdisciplinary learning for all.

Steinwald has a biology degree from the University of Dallas, an masters in ecology from Purdue University, and is currently a Ph.D. candidate in zoology at Miami University, conducting innovative research on the effects of photography on how people relate to nature. She serves as the environment committee chair of the North American Nature Photography Association and affiliate council member of the International League of Conservation Photographers. A self-taught photographer, she primarily focuses on mundane nature in the built environment and child-nature interactions.

Steinwald grew up in Manchester, N.H., and credits her biology teacher — a botanist –for cultivating her interest in the natural world and giving her the confidence to pursue science as a career. Learn more about her at:

The star who would play me in the movie version of my life and why:

Natalie Portman. Because our personalities seem to have a lot in common.

Childhood hero and why:

My high school biology teacher; he was amazing at getting kids into local nature and unafraid of science.

Pick one:

A. Go-Gos

B. Goo-Goo Dolls

C. Lady Gaga

D. Yo Gabba Gabba

50-50 — Goo Goo Dolls and Lady Gaga

The piece of memorabilia from my childhood I wish I still had:

Gregory, a small white teddy bear. I think my old high school boyfriend had him last.

The superpower I wish I had in real life and why:

Ability to never need sleep; life is too short as it is.

I can’t live without my: iPod, cell phone, DVR or laptop?

I could live without all of them, but I use my laptop the most.

My favorite reality show:

Why waste real life watching a virtual one?

App that I wish I could invent:

Automatic shutoff after a certain number of hours per day. We have so few face-to-face interactions as it is.

Favorite brunch food:


Favorite guilty pleasure:

Buying too many items at yard sales.

Best mistake I’ve ever made:

Joining a wildlife genetics lab for my doctorate; I never would have started taking photos of the sidewalk nature outside my research building if I hadn’t been so disheartened by working in a sterile, windowless environment under fluorescent lights all day (and night).

Something I would do over if I could and why:

Get married, to my husband, again. (We just celebrated our eighth anniversary!)

Favorite lunchtime spot:

People eat lunch away from their desk?

Top thing on my “Bucket List” to do before I’m gone:

I try to live every day like it’s my last. But it would be nice to visit Europe someday.

In five years, I’d like to:

Finally be Dr. Steinwald, and have made substantial progress toward turning Phipps into a major center where science, art, education and community engagement converge.

My favorite thing about Pittsburgh is:

The people. The rivers. And the architecture.

Star I’d like to dance with on “Dancing with the Stars”:

Gene Kelly

Three people I’d love to have dinner with:

Fyodor Dostoevsky, Ludwig von Beethoven and Leonardo da Vinci. Though I’d much prefer late-night conversation over coffee or rum and coke.

My favorite sandwich, plus fixings:

I’m not that into food, but I can say that anything without horseradish probably is on the safe side.

One word my mother would use to describe me:

Good question. I have no idea. I’m third oldest of 12 kids; my parents have a heck of a time keeping our identities straight as it is.

Celebrity crush:

Christian Bale. When I was 13, he played Jim in “Treasure Island.”

When I was 10, I wanted to be:

Mother Teresa, Henry David Thoreau, and a jet fighter pilot (flying a Hawker Harrier jump jet).

Exercise I hate most:

Anything where I can’t multi-task.

I’m deathly afraid of:

Complacency, in myself and others.

If I was auditioning for “American Idol,” my song would be:

“We are Winning” by Flobots.

The first band I saw in concert (when and where):

My friend’s punk band, in Dallas, in college.

The best concert I’ve ever seen:

Rachmaninoff’s Piano Concerto #2, by the Dallas Symphony Orchestra. I have no idea who the pianist was, but it was amazing.

TV marathon I could watch all day and why:

National Geographic episodes, because of the amazing places and because I now know many of the people involved in making them.

Favorite Pittsburgh-area landmark:

Phipps. (I was paid to say that.) No really, I haven’t been here long enough to know.

Saturday mornings you’ll find me:

At home, with my husband and kids.

Best new gadget I’ve tried recently:

The iPod Touch is pretty cool.

The person I’m most often mistaken for:

A boy. (Though that happens less often than it used to.)

The worst advice I ever received:

Be responsible: Get a tech job at a pharmaceutical company to support my family long-term.

In high school, I was:

A troubled, passionate, crunchy, honors student, with dreads or a shaved head, listening to Stone Temple Pilots, Rage Against the Machine, and spending most of my weekends birding.

The most famous person I ever became friends with:

Brian Skerry — National Geographic underwater photographer, Boston Aquarium explorer-in-residence and overall inspiration.

The movie that always makes me cry:


My most treasured fashion accessory is:

Probably silver rings

What you’ll always find in my glove compartment:

Insect carcasses, pine cones, rocks, bottle caps. Whatever my kids (or I) have found and stored there.

My most embarrassing junk food:


If I wasn’t associate director of science education at Phipps, I’d be:

Sad I wasn’t.

The last book I read:

“The Visual Display of Quantitative Information” by Edward Tufte

Movie I could watch every time it appears on cable:


My favorite Web site:

Google Scholar

My most memorable fashion mistake:

Accidentally dying my hair green over the Christmas holiday season.

If I could live my life as someone else, it would be:

I’ve never wanted to be anyone else.

My childhood nickname was:

Molly, actually. My real name’s Mary Catherine; but all the girls in my family were named “Mary,” so we all went by nicknames.

My favorite “bad” movie:

“The Princess Bride”

My first job:

General lackey for my dad’s publishing company.

My worst job:

International student advisor, right after 9/11.

The song that always gets me out on the dance floor and why:

“Dressed for Success” by Roxette probably would do it, but I’ve never actually been to a club.

Life would be better without:


If I could tour with any two bands, they would be:

Cake and The Three Tenors.

I never travel without my:

Family; at least I try not to.

People would be surprised to know that I:

Owe much of my stability to my husband, Walter. Homeless alongside his family for most of his childhood, he has this great phrase, “If things don’t work out, don’t worry, we could always live in a cardboard box.” And you know, I think he’s right.

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